Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Category: Abraham Lincoln

Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln: The journey from Hard War to Soft Peace

“There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’ … for the times they are a-changin’.”  Bob Dylan could’ve sung these words about Abraham Lincoln and the nation after Fort Sumter.

Early on, Lincoln told Congress that he had been careful to not let the war “degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.”[i]

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln changes his mind

However, things changed after the slaughter at Shiloh.  Historian James McPherson states:

Willy-nilly, the war was becoming a remorseless revolutionary conflict, a total war rather than a limited one.[ii]

Pressure from Radical Republicans

Thaddeus Stevens, congressman from Pennsylvania, thundered, “We must treat this [war] as a radical revolution.”  Stevens called for the Union troops to “free every slave, slay every traitor – burn every rebel mansion, if these things be necessary to preserve [the nation].”[iii]

Thaddeus Stevens
(Library of Congress)

By the fourth year of the war, Lincoln believed in a hard war.  He reckoned that God had allowed “this mighty scourge of war” as the consequence of slavery.  Lincoln was prepared to see “every drop of blood drawn with the lash” (by slave overseers) be “paid by another [drop of blood] drawn with the sword.”[iv]

Critics cry out

When Northern armies carried out what Lincoln envisioned, his critics complained about outrages such as burning of civilian homes, forced evacuations of entire neighborhoods or districts, and alleged rape.  When victims and concerned Union Generals contacted Lincoln, Lincoln was often silent about the outrages or he sometimes praised the commanding generals for their military success.[v]

Few of Lincoln’s generals outshone Sherman, who wanted to “make Georgia howl.”  Sherman succeeded in hastening the end of the war.  He also left a legacy of multi-generational pain.[vi]  A United States military veteran in 2014 said that he couldn’t sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” knowing what Sherman’s troops had done 150 years earlier.

William T. Sherman
(Library of Congress)

Lincoln’s paradox

After Sherman captured Atlanta, Lincoln envisioned the end of the war.  In his Second Inaugural Address, this believer in a hard war called for a soft peace:

With malice toward none; with charity for all … let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.[vii]

Lincoln’s last portrait
(Library of Congress)

Apparently, Lincoln saw healing as finishing the “work” of war.  Lincoln drew upon his King James Bible for a tone of mercy that evoked Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul, both of whom taught that God wanted to make his enemies his friends.

The nation’s loss

After the surrender at Appomattox, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln.  When his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, heard the news, he reportedly said:

I am sorry.  We have lost our best friend in the court of the enemy.[viii]

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Thank you for reading my blog.  Please leave any questions and comments below.


[i] Abraham Lincoln, First Annual Message to Congress, 12/3/1861, The American Presidency Project,

[ii] James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York:  1990), 32.

[iii] Thaddeus Stevens to Lancaster County Republican Convention, Lancaster, PA, 9/3/1862, Beverly Wilson Palmer, ed., The Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens, Vol. I, January 1814-March 1865 (Pittsburgh:  1997), 322, 323.

[iv] Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln, First and Second Inaugural Addresses (Washington, 1909), 40.

[v] William A. Blair, With Malice Toward Some:  Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill:  2014), 134-137, 145-146, 151.

[vi] William T. Sherman to Ulysses S. Grant, 10/9/1864, in The Civil War:  The Final Year Told by Those who Lived it (Library of America, New York:  2014), 362-364.

[vii] Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 40.

[viii] Burke Davis, The Long Surrender:  The Dramatic Account of the Collapse of the Confederacy and the Pursuit of Jefferson Davis (New York:  1985).

Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln: Persuader in Chief

Lincoln had the consummate skills of a lawyer, a politician, and a storyteller.  Added to those skills, he had impressive logic.

In many cases, Lincoln served himself, the Republican Party, and the country well.   But in some cases, Lincoln (and his subordinates) violated civil liberties.

One of Lincoln’s defeated Union Generals, Ambrose E. Burnside, inadvertently sparked a controversy, involving a vocal Peace Democrat.  Amid a public outcry, Lincoln defended his views on civil liberties in wartime.

Imprudent edict

Historian Frank L. Klement writes:

[Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio] regarded all criticism of the President as unpatriotic and traitorous … Since Burnside believed that Copperhead speeches and editorials gave encouragement to the enemy, he issued his well-known ‘General Orders, No. 38’ on April 13, 1863.


General Ambrose Burnside (Library of Congress)

General orders No. 38 stated that “the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy” would no longer be tolerated.  Burnside would discern between criticism and treason.  Civilians who disobeyed Burnside would be arrested and subjected to military procedure (that is, denied rights in the civil courts).[i]

Incendiary arrest

Almost immediately, Peace Democrat (and former congressman) Clement L. Vallandigham gave a speech, defying Burnside’s edict and suggesting that voters use “the ballot-box” to hurl “King Lincoln” from his throne.

Clement L. Vallandigham (Library of Congress)

Burnside arrested Vallandigham.  A military tribunal found Vallandigham guilty and put him in prison.

Democrats cried foul, and Lincoln ordered that Vallandigham be exiled to the Confederacy.  The level of outrage increased as Northern Democrats held mass protest meetings.

Corning Letter

A committee of Democrats of Albany, New York, chaired by Erastus Corning, wrote Lincoln on May 19, 1863.    They demanded that the Federal Government “maintain the supremacy of the civil over military law.”[ii]

Military arrests in the North were unconstitutional and eviscerated the Bill of Rights, according to the Albany Democrats.  They also claimed that Vallandigham was seized and tried “for no other reason than words addressed to a public meeting, in criticism of the course of the administration, and in condemnation of the military orders of the general [Burnside].”

Lincoln’s public reply

President Lincoln on June 12 wrote that he had lawfully suspended the writ of habeas corpus earlier in the war.  The Constitution allowed the suspension “when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.”

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln then commented on the former Ohio congressman:

Mr. Vallandigham avows his hostility to the war on the part of the Union; and his arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage desertions from the army, and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it.

He [Vallandigham] was not arrested because he was damaging the political prospects of the Administration, or the personal interests of the commanding general, but because he was damaging the army, upon the existence and vigor of which the life of the nation depends.

He [Vallandigham] was warring upon the military, and this gave the military constitutional jurisdiction to lay hands upon him.

Powerful, homespun argument

Lincoln asked:

Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?

This is none the less injurious when affected by getting a father or brother or friend into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration or a contemptible government …

I think that in such a case to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional but withal a great mercy.

Preventive arrests, assumption of guilt

Lincoln stated:

Arrests [in cases of rebellion] are made, not so much for what has been done as for what probably would be done …

The man who stands by and says nothing when the peril of his country is discussed cannot be misunderstood.  If not hindered, he is sure to help the enemy; much more, if he talks ambiguously – talks for his country with ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’.

Lincoln explained the value of his policy by citing Confederate generals who hadn’t been arrested before they entered the Confederate service.  He stated, “I shall be blamed for having made too few arrests rather than too many.”

Clarifying Lincoln’s words

The Albany Democrats on June 30, 1863, responded to Lincoln’s letter.

Your claim is, that when the writ of habeas corpus is suspended, you may lawfully imprison and punish for the crimes of silence, of speech, and opinion …

Your doctrine denies the freedom of speech and of the press.  It invades the sacred domain of opinion and discussion … even the refuge of silence is insecure.

They mentioned that the previous Congress (on March 3, 1863) had voted to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.[iii]  The Albany Democrats explained:

This [congressional] statute promptly removes the proceeding in every case into the courts where the safeguards of liberty are observed, and where the persons detained are to be discharged, unless indicted for criminal offense against the established and ascertained laws of the country.

Cross-examining Lincoln

The Albany Democrats pressed Lincoln for an explanation:

Upon what foundation, then, permit us to ask, do you rest the pretension that men who are not accused of a crime may be seized and imprisoned, or banished at the will and pleasure of the President or any of his subordinates in civil and military positions?

Where is the warrant for invading the freedom of speech and of the press?

Where is the justification for placing the citizen on trial without the presentment of a grand jury and before military commissions?

Lincoln never responded to these questions.  His words and actions suggest that for him, saving the Union (and preserving enlistments) “covered a multitude of sins.”

Historians weigh in

Historian Philip Paludan observes that President Lincoln made a more extreme defense of military arrests of civilians than necessary.[iv]

Historian Mark E. Neely Jr. writes:

If a situation were to arise again in the United States when the writ of habeas corpus were suspended, government would probably be as ill-prepared to define the legal situation as it was in 1861.

The clearest lesson is that there is no clear lesson in the Civil War—no neat precedents, no ground rules, no map.  War and its effect on civil liberties remain a frightening unknown.[v]

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Thank you for reading my blog.  Please leave any questions or comments below.

[i] Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (Chicago: 1960), 89; Frank L. Klement, The Limits of Dissent:  Clement L. Vallandigham & the Civil War (New York:  1998), 149.

[ii] Frank Moore, ed., The Rebellion Record, Vol. VII (New York:  1864), pp. 298-308.

[iii] Mark E. Neely Jr., The Fate of Liberty:  Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York:  1991), 68.

[iv] Phillip S. Paludan, “Toward a Lincoln Conversation,” Reviews in American History, XVI (March 1988), 40-41.

[v] Neely, 235.

Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln: Softly disarming his opponents

I was a member of the Abraham Lincoln fan club as a boy.  Dad was a member, too.  He taped a Lincoln quote to his bedroom mirror: “My father taught me to work.  He did not teach me to love it.”

My elementary school class made a pilgrimage to Lincoln’s bronze bust in Springfield.  We stood in line to rub his now-shiny nose.  As I’ve reflected on Lincoln over the years, I’m still drawn to his ability to tell stories.


A new series

In order to understand the Civil War and its causes, it’s good to look closely at Abraham Lincoln, his words, and his actions.  And so, I am starting a new blog series, Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln.

Responding with humor

When a political opponent accused Lincoln of being two-faced, Lincoln supposedly said, “If I had two faces, would I wear this one?”

Lincoln, who knew his King James Bible, used humor to fulfill the verse, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

An example

Lincoln received a lot of criticism for Secretary of War Simon Cameron.  When Lincoln dismissed Cameron, a group of visiting politicians said the president should go further and replace the whole cabinet.  Lincoln replied:

Gentlemen, when I was a young man, I knew one Joe Wilson who was very proud of his chickens, and he built a fine henhouse.  Skunks started raiding his hens, and he got annoyed.     One night, unusual cackling and fluttering woke him up.  It was a bright moonlit night.  Joe snuck outside with a shotgun.  He saw six skunks running in and out of the shed.  Enraged, he put a double charge in his gun to blast the whole tribe of skunks.  Somehow, he killed only one, and the rest ran off.

When Joe told this story, he paused here and held his nose.  The neighbors asked, ‘Why didn’t you run after them and kill the rest?’  ‘Blast it,’ Joe said.  ‘It was eleven weeks before I got over killin’ one.  If you want any more skirmishing in that line, you can just do it yourselves!’[i]


Starting young

Historian James M. McPherson explains Lincoln’s fondness for animal metaphors and parables.  McPherson states:

This derived in part from his own rural background [and] the many boyhood hours he spent with Aesop’s Fables.  During one of those long hours, his cousin Dennis Lincoln said to him, ‘Abe, them yarns is all lies.’  Lincoln looked up for a moment and replied, ‘Mighty darn good lies, Denny.’

McPherson continues:

As an adult, Lincoln knew that these ‘lies,’ these fables about animals, provided an excellent way to communicate with a people who were still close to their rural roots and understood the idioms of the forest and barnyard. [ii]

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Thank you for reading my blog.  Please leave any comments and questions below.

[i] Paraphrased from Francis Bicknell Carpenter, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln:  The Story of a Picture (New York, 1866 ), 139.

[ii] James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York:  1990), 99-100.

Lincoln in a new light: An Independence Day special

Abraham Lincoln had an incredible journey.  Two of his speeches show how far he came in his thinking about this country.

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln, the revolutionary

In January 1848, Congressman Abraham Lincoln gave a speech about the disputed boundary between Texas and Mexico.  Lincoln said that the farthest reaches of Texas’s territory depended upon revolution.

Lincoln continued:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.  This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right which, we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.

Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it.  Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much territory as they may inhabit.  More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement.  Such minority was precisely the case of the Tories of our own Revolution.

It is a quality of revolutions not to go by old lines, or old laws; but to break up both, and make new ones.[i]

President Lincoln (Library of Congress)

President Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln, the Conservative

Thirteen years later, in 1861, President Lincoln gave his first inaugural address.  He said “the Union is perpetual.”  He continued:

No State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; … resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and … acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.[ii]

A Democratic congressman asks:  Encouragement to secede?

Ohio Congressman A.G. Thurman, discussed Lincoln’s 1848 remarks.  Thurman asked in 1872:

[was] a word ever spoken, or line ever written, by a northern Democrat that was calculated to give a hundredth part as much encouragement to the secessionists of the South as were the utterances of Mr. Lincoln [?] …

Mr. Lincoln’s remarks were not confined to the case of Texas,, which he discussed, or to any particular time or revolution.  In what he said he laid down rules that he considered applicable to all times, all countries, and all circumstances.  And by these rules he said, in effect, to the southern people, in 1860 and 1861, ‘If you are inclined and have the power, you have the right to rise up and shake off the existing Government and form a new one that suits you better.  This is a most valuable, a most sacred right.  Any portion of you has this right, and, if there is a minority among you who cling to the Union, you have a right to put those unionists down.’

This was what Mr. Lincoln said in substance to the southern people, and when he became President-elect of the United States, these opinions of his were circulated everywhere in the South as proof that secession would not be resisted by the North.[iii]

A historian weighs in

Historian  David M. Potter stated:

Lincoln apparently thought that the preservation, by the use of force, of the Union formed in 1787 was more important for mankind than the purely voluntary self-determination of peoples. [iv]

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Thanks for reading my blog!  Please leave any comments and questions below.


[i] Harry Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War (Oxford, 2000), 347, quoting Abraham Lincoln, speech in House of Representatives, 1/12/1848, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, Thirtieth Congress, first session, volume 19, pg. 95.

[ii] “First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln,” the Avalon Project, the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale University, (accessed 6/24/2016).

[iii] A.G. Thurman, speech in House of Representatives, “Extension of the Ku Klux Act,” 5/21/1872, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, Second Session, Forty-second Congress, 665-668.

[iv] David M. Potter, “The Historian’s Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa, ” The American Historical Review, July 1962, pp. 924-950.


How Abraham Lincoln helped me understand Confederates from Iowa

Six years ago, I stumbled on to a little-known chapter of Iowa history: residents who left Iowa and served the Confederacy.  The men were sometimes mentioned as a historical footnote (if at all).  Hoping to do effective research, I turned to Abe Lincoln for guidance.

In this blog posting, I will explain what I mean by “Confederate from Iowa” and give examples of what I don’t mean.  I will also introduce motivations for Iowa residents to serve the C.S.A.

A day of Small Beginnings

Before I discuss Lincoln, I need to start at the beginning of my research story.  It all began with two questions:

  • How do I define “resident” and “Confederate service”?
  • Why did Confederates from Iowa serve the C.S.A.?

I define resident as one who lived in Iowa before his Confederate service:

  • For at least two years;
  • No earlier than 1850; and
  • Was 13 years or older while living in Iowa.

Narrow Parameters

I exclude U.S. Army soldiers who served in Iowa Territory (that is, before 1850).  Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were two such soldiers, and no one would think they were Iowans!  I also exclude those younger than 13 such as General Lawrence Sullivan “Sull” Ross, who left Bentonsport, Iowa, as a toddler.

I wanted to include men who lived in Iowa in their formative years, say, 13 and older.  At around age 13, people become more self-aware and tend to identify with peers.  They also may begin to assimilate into a local culture and even identify with a state.

I define the “Confederate service” more broadly than the Confederate infantry, cavalry, artillery, and navy.  I also include:

  • Local defense troops confined to a state;
  • The Confederate civil service; and
  • Military attachés to governors.

 Why include Civil Service and Military Attachés?

The civil service helped support the armed forces and civilians.  One Confederate from Iowa wanted to enlist in the infantry, but his doctor said his lungs were too unhealthy.  Instead, he entered the Confederate Ordnance Bureau.

I included military attachés to governors because what happened in a state could affect civilian and military morale, military recruitment, and desertion.  One governor appointed a Confederate from Iowa to be military attaché with the rank of lieutenant colonel.  The governor ordered him to use Confederate troops to investigate “treasonable conduct” and “threatened violence” and to help keep the peace.

The million-dollar question

Why would someone leave a nice state like Iowa and serve the Confederacy?  James McPherson offers insights in For Cause and Comrades:  Why Men Fought in the Civil War.  But I looked for something more.

LincolnAbrahamI wanted a list of motivations that would help me organize clues and analyze them.  This is where Abraham Lincoln is very helpful.  Lincoln suggests that men served the Union for the following reasons:

  • Patriotism;
  • political bias;
  • ambition;
  • personal courage;
  • love of adventure; and
  • want of employment.

I have adapted Lincoln’s categories to the Southern context as follows:

  • Principle;
  • identification with southern culture;
  • professional ambition and economic necessity; and
  • love of adventure.

These four categories seem to cover most Confederates from Iowa who I have studied.  However, a few men seem to be exceptions.   Therefore, I have added three tiny categories of exceptions:

  • Opportunism (since some patterns of behavior suggest this);
  • Conscription; and
  • Social pressure from Southern neighbors and/or courts.

What do you think?

I’d like to hear what you think of my definitions and categories of motivations.

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